Coming off another disappointing year, I'm going to switch some things up - in fact I already did with these picks. Back in the early days when I was crushing it, I was kind of naive about sports betting and simply picked the team I thought was undervalued. There was no trying to discern what the sharps and squares thought, or what the public was doing. There was also no contrarianism as a default style - contrarian picks are actually impossible when every game is 50/50. It was just my observations (and Damon's), and we rolled with them without knowing much about the context of the greater sports betting market. So it's in that spirit I'll be making my picks this year. We'll see if it's possible to unlearn something.
Teams I like best - Ravens, Steelers, Panthers, Vikings and Redskins. Coin flips: Texans, Raiders and Niners.
Ravens +7.5 at Broncos
This line got up to nine at one point, in which case I loved the Ravens but wondered whether the sharps knew something about Denver I didn't. After all this Ravens squad beat the Broncos in Denver despite giving up two kick return touchdowns, then throttled the Patriots in New England and won the Super Bowl against a tough 49ers team. Sure they lost cheerleader-in-chief Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but they get back a finally healthy Terrell Suggs and their top cover corner in Lardarius Webb. And Denver happens to be missing its second-best player, Von Miller, for six games. Take the Ravens.
Broncos 24 - 23
Patriots -10 at Bills
EJ Manuel is attempting to make the leap to the NFL despite having knee surgery in the preseason and seeing very little work. Still, it's clear that's priced into the line (10 points on the road is enormous), and probably a little extra as the Patriots are a very public team. Back the Bills.
Patriots 28 - 19
Titans +7 at Steelers
The Steelers were a disappointment last year, but it's hard not to have faith in the trio of Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and Ben Roethlisberger, three guys likely headed to the Hall of Fame. The Titans - we'll see whether Jake Locker ever develops. Back Pittsburgh.
Steelers 31 - 10
Falcons +3 at Saints
Personally, I think the Sean Payton angle is overrated - he's a creative offensive coach, but offense wasn't really the problem for the Saints last year. Maybe these teams are rough equals, but I'll take the points in a game either can win. Back Atlanta.
Falcons 27 - 24
Buccaneers -3.5 at Jets
Don't worry about the "how" - it's not for us to know. Take the Jets at home with the points.
Bucs 16 - 13
Chiefs -3.5 at Jaguars
I expect the Chiefs to be far better this year with a real quarterback and top-notch offensive coach. But Jacksonville should improve somewhat too, and Kansas City has to earn road-favorite status before I'm willing to spot them. Back the Jaguars.
Jaguars 21 - 20
Seahawks -3.5 at Panthers
I don't want to take home dogs reflexively this year, but Carolina was better than its record, and the Seahawks have a pronounced home/road split. Back the Panthers.
Panthers 20 - 16
Bengals +3 at Bears
This is the right line in a match-up between strong defensive teams that might open it up more this year. I'll take the Bears because their veteran skill players might not need quite as much time to get in sync as Cincinnati's younger ones. Back Chicago.
Bears 20 - 16
Dolphins pick'em at Browns
As far as I can tell, these teams are rough equals - either could improve enough to grab a Wild Card or wind up being a league doormat. As such, I take Cleveland at home in a pick'em game
Browns 21 - 20
Vikings +5 at Lions
The Vikings actually made the playoffs last year, and that was with Percy Harvin out for the second half of the season, so his loss has no effect. Maybe the Lions will bounce back but this line should be three, not five
Lions 27 - 24
Raiders +10 at Colts
The Raiders might be a league doormat - maybe even an historic one. But then again, the Bengals were horrific in the preseason two years ago, and they were forced to start rookie Andy Dalton in Week 1 due to Carson Palmer's holdout. That team wound up making the playoffs. Bottom line - don't read too much into the preseason. Until we see otherwise, the Colts are a league-average team and shouldn't be laying 10. Back Oakland.
Colts 24 - 17
Packers +4.5 at 49ers
My first instinct was to take the Niners given Green Bay's offensive line problems, and then I talked myself into worrying about a possible Super Bowl hangover that's hit the losers hard in recent years. But that's probably along the lines of the "370-carry curse" or the Madden cover jinx. Whenever you have a Super Bowl season, chances are you will be worse the next year. But losing the SB doesn't somehow make them worse, i.e., it's not a factor to be analyzed independently from the quality of the team. Back San Francisco.
49ers 27 - 20
Cardinals +4.5 at Rams
I want to buy into an improved Rams team, but I can't quite yet, given Sam Bradford's track record of mediocrity and all the young, unproven skill players on offense. On the other hand, the Cardinals offensive line was atrocious last year, and now they've lost first-round pick Jonathan Cooper for the year. I guess I have to take the points here, as Arizona's defense is pretty solid too. Back the Cardinals.
Cardinals 20 - 17
Giants +3 at Cowboys
This game should be a shootout that either team can win, and the Cowboys home stadium confers virtually no advantage. Take the points.
Giants 31 - 30
Eagles +3.5 at Redskins
Maybe Chip Kelly and a healthy (for now) Michael Vick will revitalize this team, but the Redskins were a force in the second half last year and barely lost to the Seahawks in the Wild Card game. They should be laying more than 3.5 at home. Back Washington.
Redskins 33 - 24
Texans -3.5 at Chargers
At least Norv Turner is finally gone. I like Monday night home dogs especially after an entire offseason of uncertainty, but I also think the Texans are the kind of veteran team to start quickly. Back Houston.
Texans 30 - 17
Last year we went 121-129-6 on the regular season. From 1999-2012 we've gone 1,810-1,641 (52.4%), not including ties.